The festive pomegranate season has begun in Afghanistan, but this year thousands of tons of the juicy red fruit are at risk of rotting on trucks blocked on an often closed border with Pakistan – leaving thousands of farm workers jobless.
With its pungent and crunchy, ruby-red seeds encased inside a leathery red rind, the pomegranate is renowned for its health benefits, and is one of the most important crops in the south of the country.
But fruits are bearing fruit as Afghanistan finds itself engulfed in a series of crises that have metastasized since coming under Taliban control two months ago.
“We have 15,000 farm laborers in this area, who have been paralyzed by trade and the fruits are rotting,” said Haji Nani Agha, head of the Fresh Fruits Union in Kandahar. AFP.
Under the shade of pomegranate bushes, watermelon-sized fruits fill burlap bags and crates being loaded onto trucks soon headed for the Spin Boldak border with Pakistan.
But there their journey stops.
Islamabad is sales tax deduction Zeroed in on imported fruit to promote trade from its neighbour, but also tightened controls on common Afghans trying to cross, fearing illegal entry.
This has caused a tug of war between Pakistani officials and the new rulers of Afghanistan, who have repeatedly closed the border in protest.
Exporters hoping to sell their wares have found themselves in the scorching heat for days and even weeks.
“It is a disaster for the whole of Afghanistan, because all Afghan trade passes through this border,” Agha said.
Typically, between 40,000 and 50,000 tonnes are exported every year across this border to Pakistan and India and also to the Gulf countries.
But according to Abdul Baqi Bina of the Chamber of Commerce in the southern city of Kandahar, only 4,490 tonnes have left the country so far.
“These products are waiting to be sold, but the longer they delay, the more their quality deteriorates and the lower their selling price,” he said.
Even before the dramatic change in power, Afghanistan’s agricultural sector was severely affected by drought and intense fighting in several provinces.
For years, previous Western-backed Afghan governments and international donors tried to persuade farmers to abandon cultivating poppies for illegal opium production and to grow fruits such as pomegranates instead.